Regarding the Pain of Others, Paperback Book
2.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Regarding the Pain of Others is Susan Sontag's searing analysis of our numbed response to images of horror.

From Goya's Disasters of War to news footage and photographs of the conflicts in Vietnam, Rwanda and Bosnia, pictures have been charged with inspiring dissent, fostering violence or instilling apathy in us, the viewer.

Regarding the Pain of Others will alter our thinking not only about the uses and meanings of images, but about the nature of war, the limits of sympathy, and the obligations of conscience. 'Powerful, fascinating. Sontag is our outstanding contemporary writer in the moralist tradition' Sunday Times 'A coruscating sermon on how we picture suffering' The New York Times 'A far-reaching set of ruminations on human suffering, the nature of goodness, the lures, deceptions and truth of images short, a summary of what it means to be alive and alert in the twentieth century' Independent 'Sontag is on top form: firing devastating questions' Los Angeles Times 'Simple, elegant, fiercely persuasive' Metro One of America's best-known and most admired writers, Susan Sontag was also a leading commentator on contemporary culture until her death in December 2004. Her books include four novels and numerous works of non-fiction, among them Regarding the Pain of Others, On Photography, Illness as Metaphor, At the Same Time, Against Interpretation and Other Essays and Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1963, all of which are published by Penguin.

A further eight books, including the collections of essays Under the Sign of Saturn and Where the Stress Falls, and the novels The Volcano Lover and The Benefactor, are available from Penguin Modern Classics.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Violence in society
  • ISBN: 9780141012377

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

This was a really quick, rather interesting read. Sontag's essential argument is that the saturation of images of violence through the modern media has begun to inure us to the pain of other human beings. She traces the history of war photography, network decisions about which footage to air, etc. and makes a rather compelling and humane argument. I think it's just about the perfect length, I believe I read it in a couple of evenings and then passed it on to my mom.

Review by

Much in the way AIDS and its metaphors is an update of Illness as metaphor, likewise Regarding the pain of others (2004) is an update of On Photography (1977). Unfortunately, the follow-up books are not as original and well-written as the first-conceived editions. Perhaps avoiding a repetition of earlier ideas or arguments, the follow-up books, they are not as sparkling, a mere shadow of the original works.The title of Regarding the pain of others is ambiguous, based on the possible double meaning of the word "regarding". The essay is therefore as much, but not solely about "pain", but much more about "viewing suffering," i.e. the pain of others.The essay deals with various types of images, starting with Sixteenth century etchings by Goltzius, and moves on to discuss the graphic work of Hans Ulrich Frank of soldiers killing peasants, dated to 1652 or the end of the Thirty Years' War, and Francisco Goya's early Nineteenth century work, a series of 83 etchings under the title Los Desastres de la Guerra. However, Sontag's essay does not convincingly bear out that these etchings are works of art, and cannot be regarded as the equivalent of journalistic photography. The essay is largely concerned with journalistic and war photography and filmography.Regarding the pain of others does touch upon the satisfaction derived from watching the suffering of others, or at least images thereof. But the work is far more focused on describing the medium of photography than exploring man's fascination with the images of suffering. This is regrettable, as the ambiguous title gave an outlook on a broad spectrum of interest, which in this essay is only interpreted in the narrow sense of photography.